Written by: Will Baker
Photos: Landon Ecker
Video: Matt Wade, Landon Ecker, Will Baker, Ben Ward
I was so stoked to be invited to go on a fly fishing trip with my friend Landon to Elfin Cove Resort, Alaska. My role was to capture video content from our daily adventures at the resort and compile enough content to create a video for Elfin Cove Resort. In the back of my head I had way less experience than everyone else when it came to fly fishing, so I was a bit intimidated to be joining a trip full of guides and professional fishermen but when it came to videoing an adventure like this I couldn’t be more excited.
The vision of our trip was to create content for Elfin Cove Resort, specifically covering the Steelhead fly fishing experience. I had some experience and education in video production, and I was ecstatic to be going to Alaska for an adventure of a lifetime and do it with my close friend Landon. We packed all our gear for a week and headed off to Denver International airport. When we landed in Juneau it was overcast and raining. The trees were a vibrant dark green, and snow capped mountain tops would faintly show themselves through the fog. We made our way to meet with our host for the week from Elfin Cove Resort, and we made our way to their boat for the 2-hour long boat ride to the lodge.
Elfin Cove is a unique and special place. To get access you can either fly by float plane or take a boat. Going to the resort we went by boat and traveled through beautiful Fiords, where trees came right up to the water’s edge, and behind them are giant white capped mountains. Glacier bay was one of the most beautiful and wild places I have ever been. There were whales migrating through the sound, sea otters swimming about and quickly hiding as the boats floated by. As we approached the end of the protected waters, the open Alaskan Sea pushes squirrelly tides around. Kieren Oliver, our captain tactfully moved the boat to time it with the incoming tides and we find ourselves in open water. The swell got bigger and the wind picked up rocking boat up and down. After making through some rough chop we came around a cove where we could see a tall lodge sitting on the water’s edge. Sitting in the most beautiful back drop and isolated location, sat Elfin Cove Resort.
Elfin Cove was and still is a sanctuary for sailors who seek refuge from the open ocean. It is a small town that sits right on the edge of the Alaskan Sea and is protected just perfectly from the large and unpredictable tides that move through. And with those tides, you also have some of the largest migration of sea creatures. Making for some of the best sport fishing in the world.
Landon and I were ecstatic to be witnessing such a pristine and beautiful landscape, and giddy to even be getting the chance to fish it. After a long day of travel, we gained much needed rest, but both anxiously waited for the morning to begin our fishing adventure.
Elfin Cove Resort is well known for their Halibut fishing, and often will fish for King Salmon when they’re running. While we got to experience some amazing deep-sea fishing, we were mostly there to fly fish for Steelhead in rivers that have never been fished before. We were well taken care of by the resort staff. Our guides would work tirelessly to prepare and plan getting us on fish and keeping us well fed and comfortable. They would chart out how the tides and weather were going to push though so they could get us to all the different river systems that that made their way to the ocean. We would load up each day on a charter fishing boat that would take us through the open waters, and tethered behind us was a long steel jet boat that would allow us access to land and up the river systems to fish for Dolly Varden, Steelhead and Trout.
I remember being breathless by both the landscape and the animals we got to see. All sorts of migratory ducks and birds flying overhead. Grizzly bears were walking the water’s edge, and bald eagles were perched in all directions. When we made our way to land using the jet boat, we would help anchor in such a way to all the tides to come in but not take away our access to retrieving the boat when we had to leave. And then we would begin walking rivers edge though thick dense foliage trying to keep a low profile looking for any signs of fish.
I think our excitement was at an all-time high, but we hadn’t yet experienced the beautiful challenge of what Steelhead fishing is all about. The chase was on for the “fish of 1,000 casts.”
We hiked up the river a ways and we started to spot Steelhead darting around the river moving upstream. On first glance they looked to range in size between twenty to forty plus inches in length. A member of our crew would spot our first fish, and a member of the group would branch off to begin casting and drifting their rig over the Steelhead adjusting depth almost every other cast. Then another would see a fish and do the same, followed by no luck, and then again another fish, more casting, and still no luck. We would sit on a fish for hours, casting and casting, followed up with no luck.
As the day progressed the tides began to change and our guides pulled us off the river as we had a narrow window of low tides to access our jet boat. After a first solid day pursuing Steelhead we knew right away that catching one was not going to be a walk in the park.
The weather in Alaska tells the story. It dictates all the decisions that are made. When you experience the feeling of having to work with mother nature, and surrender your excitement of instant gratification to the mercy of the earth, it becomes both humbling and frustrating. Some mornings or afternoons we would have to change our fishing plans all based on the tides and the weather. We would always kill our time by driving to new spots and giving some halibut fishing a go. I personally grew to love the lifestyle of harmony with nature. It was a reminder that we don’t always have a say in how life will play out, but we can go with it and let it show us things we may not have ever seen.
But as soon as our window was there, we were making our way back to the rivers. We ended up going to lots of different river systems, some I don’t think any person has ever been to before. The trails that we hiked along the river on were all made by bear or other animals. And like all the other days we would creep along looking for fish, and casting both at them and sometime blindly all hoping to see that indicator bounce. The days of this search continued and continued, and our luck never seemed to play favor. But we remained hopeful and the staff at Elfin Cove kept us well fed, and our spirits high.
It was our last day, and our last chance to catch a Steelhead. We decided to hike further upstream this day and ended up finding a small pocket where a hand full of Steelhead were sitting. There was a clear shallow eddy that had two beautiful fish sitting in it. This was it, our shot at finally catching our steel head. Landon went first. He threw on a large black and white streamer and he slowly walked his way over to a spot up stream of the fish to let his line out. There was a big bush over hanging the river that made access hard to get to the fish, but Landon managed to work his way into a spot that got him close. He would mend his line downstream and then rip it up past the fish. He did this a hand full of times, all of us in the group watching from a berm high above the spot. “A little further,” “go right,” “you’re on the fish!!!” we would yell, helping him guide his way to the fish. And after a few tries. BAM! He got one. Landon pulls back, trying to set the hook but his rod gets delayed by the branches and he loses the fish. Landon came to the shore and told me “that was my shot, it’s up to you now big boy.” It’s the last day and still no one but Charlie our guide has caught a Steelhead on the fly. Being the least experienced fly fisherman I didn’t have much hope but it was the bottom of the ninth and I didn’t come all the way to Alaska to get skunked. So, I threw on a similar rig and used the same tactics Landon used prior to hooking his fish.
I remember thinking I needed to be aggressive in how I got to the fish, we needed better access, and the bush was making that hard. I ended up putting the tip of my rod under the water below the branches that were sitting in the water. I let my line out, and my streamer is right on target. The group that can see the fish encourages me and directs the path of the streamer right onto the fish. I had my streamer so close to the Steelhead that I could hear the group saying “You’re literally petting it.” I keep casting.. I do it for only a couple passes, and as soon as the streamer hits the fish face he snaps. “SET” they all yell. I pull straight back on the line and he’s hooked. The fight begins. The fish pulls me up and down the river. The rocks in the water made me lose my footing, I slipped in and caught my line on a tree. It’s a miracle the fish stayed on, I got the line unstuck and waited out the fight. And finally, at the bottom of the 9th inning, we landed a Steelhead. Biggest fish I have ever caught, along with one of the most memorable encounters of my life.
It wasn’t just my catch; the whole group was ecstatic about getting this fish. It was like our team had won the Super Bowl. We all pitched in to make it happen.
That fish thought a lot about how we go most of our life expecting things to work out great. But we often forget the times that make things so memorable and worthwhile. That trip was memorable because of the memories spent with the crew that served us, the group of fishermen & women that were there all chasing the same potential end result. While we didn’t all catch a fish, we all partook in the adventure. We all got to see new landscapes, share stories and laughs, and make memories that would have been missed if we just thought the great ending was catching a fish.
I lost my grandfather that same day. When we made it back to the lodge where there was service I got a call from my mom about my grandfather’s passing. He was a mentor to me, a friend, and someone that taught me the value of being present with your life and making the most out of every day. I remember being sad that I was in a location so far away and not being with family for that news. But I knew that there was probably no better place to be, somewhere he would have wanted me, in the middle of an adventure, living presently with my surroundings, taking in the joys of those I’m with. If life has any great endings, they are only there because of the unique challenges, over-comings, and journeys to get there.
Check out the film from Elfin Cove Resort below: